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Texas Tech Researcher Shatters Metallic Glasses Mystery

Cooling speed is key to flexibility and strength in the material.

Written by Jeff Sammons

Metallic glasses are stronger than steel.

Metallic glasses are stronger than steel.

Researchers at Texas Tech University and Yale University have discovered a way to predict and control the properties of metallic glasses, yielding a highly versatile material that looks like metal, is moldable like plastic, but stronger than steel.

The study, “Critical fictive temperature for plasticity in metallic glasses,” is published in the journal Nature Communications and reveals that there is a critical fictive temperature to obtain a glassy state capable of plastic deformation. The study shows there is a critical cooling rate, based on the critical fictive temperature, for pliability in metallic glasses. If the glass is cooled more slowly than the critical cooling rate, it will be brittle.

Golden Kumar, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Texas Tech, and Jan Schroers, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Yale University, have developed a model that can explain why some metallic glasses are always ductile or brittle, whereas others are sensitive to processing and aging. The model is based on the metallic glass’ fictive temperature.

Metallic glasses are unique because they combine traits of metals, plastics and glasses in one material. These materials conduct heat and electricity like metals, but their glassy structure makes them moldable like plastics, but hard like glasses. In the process of creating these metallic glasses, it has been difficult to predict the exact properties of the end product, as the materials can be ductile or brittle depending on their composition, sample size and preparation conditions. Despite numerous efforts in the past, no single theory could explain the effect of all of these factors on the properties of metallic glasses.

“By comparing the critical fictive temperature values for different metallic glasses, we can now tell which one will be ductile or brittle under typical conditions,” Kumar said. “This can explain why some metallic glasses were always brittle; their critical fictive temperature is beyond experimentally accessible fictive temperature.”

Metallic glasses typically contain four or five elements, such as zirconium, titanium, copper, nickel, aluminum, platinum, iron and others. However, it is the main element that determines the cost and application. Zirconium-based metallic glasses, for example, exhibit high strength and elasticity, and may be used in sporting goods or military applications, while titanium-based metallic glasses may be considered for precision medical tools because of their biocompatibility.

“The model will help to develop an alloy-specific preparation recipe for obtaining plasticity in metallic glasses,” Schroers said. “This is a crucial step toward predictive models for plastic deformation of metallic glasses.”

Other co-authors who contributed to the study are Pascal Neibecker and Yanhui Liu at Yale.

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Whitacre College of Engineering
The Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering

The Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering has educated engineers to meet the technological needs of Texas, the nation and the world since 1925.

Approximately 4,300 undergraduate and 725 graduate students pursue bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees offered through eight academic departments: civil and environmental, chemical, computer science, electrical and computer, engineering technology, industrial, mechanical and petroleum.

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